Viva La France

Ah, France! France is Disneyland for adults¿especially for surfers. Picture a place with huge sandy beaches covered with semi-clothed women. French ladies are some of the most beautiful women in the world. So, you’re at this beach, it’s really warm and nice, and you’re looking at all these beautifully sculpted pieces of art framed by perfect aqua lines marching in from the Atlantic Ocean. This beach gets perfect surf. It’s one the best high-performance beachbreaks in the world. You surf all day with your bros and hang on the beach mesmerized by perfect peaks all around. Did I fail to mention that it’s legal to drink on the beach? Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? And that’s only what you do during the twelve hours of available sunlight!

It’s no wonder the world’s best young surfing talent explodes once the tour hits these shores. Like in most other countries, the local currency doesn’t seem real, so it’s spent like Monopoly money. There’s no real drinking age. People are way more liberal than in America, and you can party ’til the break of dawn. For many, it can be difficult getting up early to put on a contest jersey. It’s not uncommon to see young rookies puking right before they paddle out. To the untrained eye, it might appear to be pre-contest jitters, but it could easily be residual from the world-famous Rockfood Bar. If that’s not enough to throw surfers off their quest for a win, then the copulating couple they had to walk by on their way to the water’s edge just might do it!

On the other hand, it’s not always like this. There are two distinct seasons in France¿both offer equal enjoyment. The above-mentioned scenario usually takes place in the month of August. Unlike Americans, the French work to live, not live to work. All of Europe seems to go on holiday for the month of August, turning the ordinarily sleepy beach towns of Southern France into raging international party conventions, with everything from surf contests to the circus. At times, it’s hard to distinguish between the two.

Once September arrives, there’s a noticeable downshift from the summer’s redline. The fall is the best time of year to get good, uncrowded surf. The changing seasons increase the number of low-pressure systems moving across the Atlantic, producing swells needed to make the magic sandbars come alive. The weather is still pleasant despite the empty beaches. Many of the girls are gone, and most of the bars are shut down for the impending winter. So, if you’re not looking for all the hoopla, then fall is the time to be there.

Besides surfing and the nighttime debauchery, France has a lot to offer culturally. This year had a lot of downtime due to the lack of surf, which can be a blessing for the adventurous. Two hours to the south of Hossegor is Bilbao, Spain¿home of the Guggenheim museum. This Frank Gehry-designed building is a work of art in itself. Two hours to the north of Hossegor is Bordeaux, home to the most famous wine chateaus in the world. Farther to the north is Paris¿an easy jaunt by plane, train, or automobile. In Paris you can see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, copious museums, the Follies Berge, and one of my personal favorites¿Cimetere Pere La Chaise, the final resting place of Jim Morrison. Amsterdam, Prague, Munich, and Rome should also be considered if you want to see some beautiful sights.

This past summer was no different from the ones preceding it when it comes to shenanigans¿a different cast doing the same shit that always happens. Like everywhere else on tour, there’s a code: What happens on tour, stays on tour. No names mentioned, just incidents. Don’t misunderstand me¿not everyone goes hog-wild on croissants, cigarettes, and wine, but most find time to indulge at some point.

The scene: Phil’s Sushi Bar. Phil¿a classic Aussie who can recite any line from any Chevy Chase movie on cue¿has a loyal clientele who typicallconvene at his establishment early in the evening for sushi and drinks. Europe is very old, and the phone system isn’t as convenient as what we’re used to, so Phil’s is a great place to meet up with the boys and plan the evening. This year, Phil added a Ping-Pong table and R2D2¿a portable kegerator¿enhancing some classic events that took place. A Ping-Pong tourney was held in which each contestant had to scull a beer before every match. The talent rivaled that of the WQS events: Parko, Fred Patacchia, Mike Todd, Bron Heussenstamm, Joel Centeio, Sean Moody, and Jason Shibata, to name a few. After beating Todd in the first round, Parko couldn’t take the pressure and pulled a Houdini to focus on his early-morning heat. Fred and Moody squared off in an all-Hawai’ian match with Fred taking the bragging rights. In poetic justice, the lowest-paid guy, Bron Heuessenstamm, ended up winning the 30 euros and two free dinners Phil graciously provided. Needless to say, in typical Bron fashion, he’s still claiming it! Gabe Kling’s twenty-second birthday bash kicked off with Phil piping in the PGA Championships on his satellite. It was good to see some American TV, as there aren’t many TV sets available in that neck of the woods.

Café de Paris is another good launching spot. It’s located on the busiest corner in the centre ville of Hossegor. It’s a great place to people watch and drink a few famous giraffes¿long tubes filled with three liters of the liquid concoction of your choice¿which can be brutal! Anytime one of the boys wins the Hossegor event, you can bet this is where they’ll meet, trying to break the giraffe record currently held by Parko and crew, who emptied approximately 60 tubes! This year, Aussie Richie Lovett won the Rip Curl Pro, and the group who assembled for the celebration put up a valiant effort for the record¿but to no avail.

After Sushi Phil’s or the Café de Paris, everyone¿and I mean everyone¿makes an appearance at the famous Rockfood, which has been fashioned as a surfer’s Hard Rock Cafe. Autographed memorabilia decorates the walls, and meals are named after the likes of Kelly, Sunny, and Munga. Rockfood Owner Roland is like the mayor of this small surf town and knows how to whip the crowd into a frenzy. He wears a Madonna-esque headset and encourages lovelies to get up and dance on the bar. He’s even attached handles to the ceiling for the willing participants to hold onto. At times, these ladies even do their best Moulin Rouge performance. Remember, I told you they’re more liberal there.

If you’re still standing when the Rockfood closes, then it’s on to the adjacent Bakoua or the casino¿you can disco ’til dawn at both. It’s a funny sight¿pros jogging home at 5:00 a.m. as if they were on some Rocky training mission.

This was a rough year as far as contests go. According to the locals, France had the worst summer in 50 years, with no two consecutive sunny days and not much surf. It was a bummer, because so much rides on the qualifying line during this leg. Four back-to-back six star events in a row. The O’Neill Surf Challenge, the first event on the schedule, would have been more appropriately named after its Cold Water Classic cousin here in the States. Although the water wasn’t cold, the frigid air was accompanied by a lot of wind and rain. Brazilian Fabio Gouveia won in decent surf (compared to the later events).

The surf was so small for the Orange/Gotcha Lacanau Pro (the next event) that it couldn’t be finished in the allotted time, so it ran through Monday as the Rip Curl Pro Trials were getting underway in Hossegor. Flavio Padaratz took advantage of the small conditions¿winning Lacanau. The Hossegor event suffered the same fate and had to be finished on Monday, while the final WQS event of the European leg started in Portugal.

In between all these WQS events, Quiksilver combined the surf and party aspects together to put on the most entertaining event: the Surf de Nuit air show in Anglet. That’s right, a nighttime air show. A band played out on the jetty while thousands of people lined the promenade under powerful floodlights¿creating a natural amphitheatre for those watching competitors punt in the two- to three-foot shorebreak. Unfortunately, the event had to be called off during the semifinals due to the approach of a severe thunderstorm. With bolts hitting right outside the lineup, it was deemed unsafe for the competitors to be out in the water. All the contestants ended up splitting the prize money equally¿1,000 euros each¿and the party moved on.

September finally rolled around, and with the beautiful women and the tour slowly disappearing, Hossegor slowly returned back to its sleepy self. I was completely waterlogged and sick of the summer’s rain, so I decided to head home to dry out. Adding another chapter in my French memory book, I boarded the plane with a smile on my face. I can’t wait ’til next year.
ty aspects together to put on the most entertaining event: the Surf de Nuit air show in Anglet. That’s right, a nighttime air show. A band played out on the jetty while thousands of people lined the promenade under powerful floodlights¿creating a natural amphitheatre for those watching competitors punt in the two- to three-foot shorebreak. Unfortunately, the event had to be called off during the semifinals due to the approach of a severe thunderstorm. With bolts hitting right outside the lineup, it was deemed unsafe for the competitors to be out in the water. All the contestants ended up splitting the prize money equally¿1,000 euros each¿and the party moved on.

September finally rolled around, and with the beautiful women and the tour slowly disappearing, Hossegor slowly returned back to its sleepy self. I was completely waterlogged and sick of the summer’s rain, so I decided to head home to dry out. Adding another chapter in my French memory book, I boarded the plane with a smile on my face. I can’t wait ’til next year.